Catering ‘Service Charge’ Explained

It is the most commonly asked question – what DOES the service charge include?  It doesn’t always mean servers, which we know can be confusing.  Most catering companies (and venues) have a lot of odds and ends that cost them money to make your event happen, and in turn, will apply a percentage to your event in order to cover those costs.   In lieu of sending you a 4-page breakdown of every single item they are charging you for, the end result is the service charge line on your invoice.  Typically this percentage ranges between 18–20% for offsite catering, and 21–23% for exclusive catering at a venue.

Your service charge includes the following:

  • Serving Items
    This includes things like chafers to keep the food hot, large salad platters, bowls for dressings, large serving spoons and other items at the buffet line.  Some caterers will also bring stands to elevate displayed food – not only does it look cool, but it is actually practical in making the most of the table’s space.  Passed hors d’oeuvres need something to be set on when they are moving around, such as platters and trays.  All of these extra items can really add up, so instead of listing every single spoon, tray, and pan, they are included under the umbrella of the service charge.
  • Large Equipment & Delivery Vehicles
    When your food is prepped at the catering kitchen it still has to travel to you and most times your event isn’t around the corner. Large warmers/ovens and refrigerated trucks keep your food at the appropriate temperature so it tastes just as fresh as it did the second it came out of the oven. This equipment requires purchasing and maintenance, just like your daily driver, our trucks need gas and routine oil changes/maintenance.  The service charge contributes to these costs, ensuring your caterer is able to afford to properly execute your event.  No one wants to eat a wilted salad or ice cold chicken parmesan!
  • Behind the Scenes Staff
    Before your event, operations staff prep and load the trucks with all the rentals and equipment needed to execute your event.  They are loading dishes that were cleaned by dishwashers and food prepped by prep cooks.  It takes 6–8 hours of pre-production before your caterer even arrives at your event. Before you, your family or your wedding planner see the caterer set foot at your venue, there have been at least 10 people already involved in the making of your event that day.  Once the event is over, staff unloads the equipment, sends the dishes, silverware, and glassware to the dishwasher area and it starts all over again the next day.  These staff members receive a wage just like any other job and the service charge contributes towards these pre and post event production costs.
  • Event Staff – MAYBE
    This one depends on the caterer and venue.  Most offsite caterers will have a separate line item for labor, and this is partly due to the fluctuation in venue layout, dinner style etc. The floor plan/number of floors at the venue, number of event hours, travel time, style of dinner, rentals, and other extras like wine service influence the off-site labor calculation. In this scenario, they charge on the lower end for service charge.  When a venue has an in-house caterer, they may only charge for EXTRA staff, such as security guards, or additional chefs, bartenders or servers if the event’s menu or special services require it.  A lot of venues include a certain time frame for your event time with your rental (ie: 4 hours of the event included in rental, $250 per additional hour). This helps them balance the costs of staff with the service charge alone and they don’t need to charge anything more than the 21- 23% service charge. When they are the exclusive caterer, they are able to store things at the venue as well, which eliminates the back and forth transport of many items that your offsite caterer has to bring every time.

So there you have it, the mysterious service charge line in your quote or invoice explained.  Every caterer may do things slightly different so it never hurts to ask them about all they include in their catering quote.  No matter what the case, there is A LOT that goes on behind the scenes of your event.  We understand you don’t do this every day, and we expect questions so don’t be afraid to ask!

5 Unusual Foods Your Wedding Guests Will Love!

No matter what the event, food is always an important aspect.  If want your wedding to be memorable and enjoyable for all, food is a great way to win your guest’s hearts.  When it comes to your food choices don’t fear being original.  Traditional is great, but unusual foods can set your special day apart from the rest and make it a great experience for all of your guests.  Here are a few of my top suggestions for unusual foods your guests will love!

1. Milk & Cookies
Who doesn’t love this classic pairing of two favorites?!  This is great for a midnight snack to serve your guests after they have been dancing the night away. This could also be used in place of cake if you are looking for a more non-traditional dessert item.

2. Mini Grilled Cheese with Tomato Soup
Mini grilled cheeses with tomato soup shooters work great as an hors d’oeuvre during cocktail hour.  This delicious comfort food combo is perfect for those chillier fall/winter months.

3. Macaroni & Cheese Bar
Guests love interactive food options where they are able to personalize their item. With a Mac & Cheese Bar, you have a ton of fixings displayed around the traditional and always delicious, mac & cheese.  Let your guests get creative by adding whatever they wish to their classic favorite allowing for a truly original dish.

4. Fish Tacos paired with Margaritas
Who doesn’t love fish tacos and margaritas?  Whether they are together or on their own, they are always delicious!  This pairing is a great option for a summer event when margaritas are in full demand.  You could do this as a station with full-size tacos and drinks or change it up a bit for hors d’oeuvres and use mini tacos and margarita shots to make it fun!

5. Popcorn Bar
A popcorn bar is also another great option for late night snacking!  Have a selection of savory flavors mixed with sweet flavors for guests to munch on as they celebrate with you!  Guests of all ages will love it and because popcorn is such a great grab and go treat, this snacking won’t stop the party!

So there you have it, 5 foods for your wedding reception that your guests will love!  Don’t be afraid to step outside the box and stray away from the traditional.  The most memorable aspects of a wedding are often the things you have never seen done before.  While shrimp cocktail and wedding cake will always work for the occasion, mini grilled cheese & tomato soup or sweet & salty popcorn mixtures can really make an impression and leave your guests talking about your special day for years to come.  Happy wedding planning!

Top 2 Reasons to Have Hors D’oeuvres During Cocktail Hour

The time has come for you to plan the menu for your wedding reception. You may be wondering if it is worth spending the extra money to serve hors d’oeuvres at your cocktail hour. When advising clients, I always say “Absolutely!” to this question. There are plenty of reasons giving your guests something to nibble on before the reception and dinner begin is money well spent, and here are the top two!

  1. No Need to Rush
    If you know your guests are not going to be starving waiting for dinner, you can feel free to take your time with post-ceremony pictures. Providing your guests with something to enjoy alongside their cocktails will assure you have no need to rush.  Not feeling rushed during photos will make it a less stressful experience and allow it to be much more enjoyable!  Your guests will be happy nibbling on something delicious like Bacon and Bleu Cheese Risotto Cakes or Smoked Salmon & Cream Cheese Pinwheels and you will be relaxed knowing they are taken care of.
  1. Enjoy Your Alone Time
    Another great way to use cocktail hour to your advantage is to enjoy a private dinner for you and your new spouse in the Bridal or Groom Suite. This may sound a little crazy at first, but hear me out.  At the reception you are going to be bombarded with all of your guests coming to say their congratulations, you may not get the opportunity to really sit and enjoy your meal. Cocktail hour is a great time to take 15-20 minutes to yourselves and just enjoy the moment together.  Not to mention, eating beforehand will allow you to avoid any crankiness and make all of your upcoming socializing much more enjoyable!

These top two reasons to have hors d’oeuvres during cocktail hour are often overlooked.  I know planning a wedding is stressful, especially when it comes to your budget. Even so, in the end, the most important thing is being able to enjoy your day to the fullest.  Keep in mind, hors d’oeuvres do not have to be expensive!  You can do something like a fruit and cheese display for $3/guest and peace of mind is priceless.  Happy wedding planning!

Fun and Clever Ways to Keep Your Wedding Buffet Moving

If you are considering having a buffet style dinner service at your reception, one of the concerns you may have is how to manage your guests to ensure there won’t be a long line of hungry people!  There are a few ways to handle this task while keeping things interesting and a bit more interactive for your guests rather than just calling them up by a table number. Here are some fun ways to keep your buffet running smoothly and get your guests fed in a timely manner.

1. Play Your Favorite Tunes
On each table, instead of a number, put one of your favorite tunes. Have the DJ announce to the guests to listen for the song on their table to be played and when they hear it to “dance” over to the buffet line. This keeps your guests engaged, plus who doesn’t like music while they wait.

2. Centerpiece Specifics 
Instead of having the same floral centerpiece at each table, try mixing it up by featuring a different flower at each table. Have your DJ call out the names of the different flowers and whichever table has those on it gets to go. If you go this route, remember to keep it limited to flowers that most people will recognize; some good ones would be: roses, daisies, carnations, sunflowers, lilies, and tulips.  If you really doubt your guest’s ability to recognize flowers, you could always go by color, maybe different colored roses, or whichever flower is your favorite, on each table.
Keep in mind, you can make this idea work with any type of centerpieces you choose to have, straying away from the traditional florals is never a bad thing either!

3. Sing For Your Supper
Have your DJ pick a secret song with “Love” in the title then go from table to table and ask your guests to sing a few bars of a song that they think it might be. Whichever table has the guest that guesses the correct song gets to hit the buffet line first!

4. Relationship Trivia
This idea has a similar set-up to the previous but this time, instead of singing, the DJ will ask a question about you and your significant other. The first person to get the question correct earns their table the right to head to the buffet!

These are just a few ideas that will keep your guests engaged and entertained. Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and have fun with it.  Make your wedding so much fun that your guests will even enjoy waiting for their food (now that’s impressive).  Happy wedding planning!

Creative and Imaginative Wedding Centerpiece Ideas

When you start tossing around decorating ideas for your big day, you will come to find that centerpieces are a must for your reception. Even if you are not into over-the-top décor, centerpieces are almost required for added ambiance on your tables. The most common, and often stunning, centerpiece is the classic floral arrangement. Today, however, I would like to offer up some alternative ideas that I have seen in the past in case flowers aren’t your thing or you are looking for a unique and creative replacement for your tabletop!

  • Edible Centerpieces – This one is my new favorite trend. It offers not only an inviting and original look for the table, but also an hors d’oeuvres option for your guests. This could be something like an antipasto platter, which if done correctly by a great caterer, can be both artistic and a great pre-dinner snack. Another option is fresh sliced fruit to provide great color for the table as well as an appealing spring and summer treat. Desserts can also be created as centerpieces, think a cupcake tower for a neat display done in your wedding colors.  Also, a great rustic or holiday tabletop idea can be cookie jars, pies or tarts.
  • Potted Herbs– This option is great for the spring and summer months when you and your guests are feeling the fresh summer vibe. This centerpiece idea comes off very sweet and shabby chic or rustic. Not to mention, this is a budget friendly option as well. These can be in pots, rustic jars, crates, the list goes on. Often they give off a pleasant aroma and you can even opt for herbs that compliment the dinner if you really want to take things to the next level.
  • Vintage Lanterns and Candles– Lanterns are a great base to work with. You can fill them up with candles from large to small, flowers, or succulents. These can save you on flowers and aren’t too difficult to play with if making your own DIY centerpieces. Floating candles or twinkle lights also give off the same cozy atmosphere.
  • Special Touches– Don’t forget you can also jazz up your table with all kinds of odds and ends. Think branches, pinecones, pumpkins, cinnamon sticks, cranberries, feathers and baby’s breath.

So while floral centerpieces are always timeless, there are also chic ways to change it up. The above are just a few ideas to get your creative mind thinking of ways to make your day even more distinguishable and memorable for you by adding your own touch and style.  Happy wedding planning!

5 Chic & Unique Summer Wedding Cocktails

Are you considering having a signature cocktail on your wedding day?  Whether you are thinking of creating one on your own or just looking for something delicious, here are some great recipes that will be sure to please your guests and beat the heat!

Sullivan Street Sour
This is a twist on the Disarrono Sour that uses cherry juice to pull out the sweet notes in the Disarrono.
Ingredients:
– 5oz Disaronno Liqueur
– 2oz Fresh-pressed lemon juice
– 1oz Simple syrup
– .5oz Cherry juice

Frida Tequila
This drink is the perfect balance of sweet and spicy. The mild spice of the jalapeno compliments the sweetness of the agave and the fruitiness of the watermelon.
Ingredients:
– 5oz Jalapeno- Infused Tequila
– 2oz of watermelon puree
– .5oz Fresh Lime Juice
– .75oz Simple syrup
– Lime garnish

Blackberry Mint Julep
This is a nice twist on a classic drink. The addition of the blackberries makes this drink extremely refreshing and tasty!
Ingredients:
– 2oz Bourbon
– .5oz Chambord
– .75oz Fresh Lime Juice
– .5oz muddled blackberries6 mint leaves

Shaken Lemonade
Lemonade is a summer staple. Try sprucing it up a bit with your favorite vodka, some bubbles for extra zest , and lovely garnish!
Ingredients:
– 2oz vodka
– 2oz lemon juice
– 2 oz club soda
– 2 Rosemary Sprigs for garnish

Grapefruit Goddess
This drink is super feminine and light. Its blush color pleases the eye while the sweet- sour taste pleases your taste buds!
Ingredients:
– 1oz citrus flavored vodka
– 1oz grapefruit juice
– .5oz Amontillado Sherry
– .5oz honey syrup
– Grapefruit wedge for garnish

Don’t be afraid to stray away from the traditional mixed drinks and create something completely your own.  Having a signature drink at your wedding will give your guests another way to remember your special day and keep them talking about it for months to come.  Even if you aren’t big on alcohol, or maybe you have a lot of younger guests attending, you can also create a signature “Mocktail” for all of those non-alcohol drinkers to still enjoy the experience of your unique beverage creation!  Alcohol or not, your guests are sure to enjoy your special day and all the deliciousness that comes with it.  As always, happy wedding planning!

4 Unique Wedding Cake Alternatives

We all know a tiered wedding cake is the traditional dessert and often a focal point at any wedding, but these days more couples are opting for something a little bit more distinctive. Here are 4 unique ways to satisfy your sweet tooth on your big day!

  1. Donuts
    Donuts will be the next big thing in wedding desserts, taking cupcakes place as the runner-up to cake. They are easily customizable, you can decorate them to be plain or ornate.  Donuts also give you the ability to create tons of different flavor options for your guests, allowing you to be able to please everyone with the variety of options. Serve these babies up with cold milk or hot coffee and they are sure to be a hit!
  2. Pie Buffet
    Having a pie buffet at your reception will give it a hint of nostalgia and a variety your guests will love. This option can also be very budget friendly if you have family members or friends who are expert pie makers. Pair this up with some vanilla ice cream or whipped cream and you’re set!
  3. Ice Cream Sundae Bar
    Who doesn’t love ice cream?! A make-your-own sundae bar will win over guests of all ages. With so many options you can even cater to those who have special dietary restrictions by offering ice cream made with coconut milk or non-dairy sorbets. You can also add a personal touch by creating custom flavors to really impress your guests. Add some sprinkles, nuts, chocolate sauce and caramel for your guests to customize their sundae and you are sure to have a winning dessert bar!
  4. Fresh Fruit & Cheese
    Fruit and cheese are such an elegant pairing of deliciousness! You can create beautiful displays by playing up the different shapes and colors of the fruits. An assortment of cheeses will provide your guests with a savory snack while the fruit will satisfy their sweet tooth without any of the guilt. You can also add a chocolate fountain to dip the fruit in for a little indulgence and because, well, who doesn’t love a chocolate fountain?!

There you have it, 4 wedding cake alternatives sure to please any guest.  Don’t be afraid to shy away from the traditional aspects of things when planning your wedding, it might make your special day even more special when you do!  As always, happy wedding planning.

Refreshing Spring Wedding Ideas

Spring is upon us and with the change in weather, we are seeing couples opt for some less formal options, as well as, lighter menu selections to add to the big day.  Below are some fresh and cool ideas for the warmer months of 2016:

Grown up Popsicles:
“Poptails”, or frozen cocktails are a playful idea for the spring or summer and the options are endless. These can go with your wedding theme or be a take on your favorite cocktail. Great with champagne or prosecco, examples include champagne and raspberry, margarita, wine soaked, bourbon peach and many more. Also, feel free to leave out the alcohol in some for a kid-friendly version!

Mix and Matched Décor:
From stemware to plates to chairs not everything has to match anymore. If you are going for a slightly more casual and lively look, this is a new trend in the wedding world. You can also apply the same concept to bridesmaid dresses and color palates. Don’t be afraid to get eclectic!

Fruit and Veggie Bar:
This is a great cocktail hour idea for a lighter fare. For the veggies, this is all about the dips, be sure to have a few different dip options! To change up the traditional veggie and fruit display idea, you could offer individual veggie cups with dip or yogurt and fruit parfaits.

Dessert Shooters:
For a late night snack or appealing display, these are a standout dessert option. Wedding cake is often left untouched, but mini desserts seem to fly off the tray! Some ideas include Strawberry Shortcake, Key Lime, Lemon Meringue, Boston  Crème Pie, Banana Cream, and Lemon Cheesecake

Low-Key Ceremonies:
If you are a more private couple, you can choose to keep your wedding ceremony simple. I am seeing this more and more with couples who want to get to the celebrating while still having a meaningful intimate moment with one another. Another way to keep things relaxed is by offering pre-ceremony cocktails because, well, it’s never a bad time for a cocktail!

Spring weddings are great and super enjoyable.  Not only is the weather beautiful, but this time of year allows for a lot of fun food and drink options.  Whether you want a low-key wedding or to go above and beyond, these ideas can help make your special day complete.  Happy wedding planning!

4 Must Have Spring Wedding Cocktails

Who doesn’t love a spring wedding? Everyone will be looking forward to the great weather and beautiful blooms on your special day, but there’s no reason to stop there!  There are so many ways to tie a spring theme to your wedding beyond just your bouquet.  I compiled a few of my favorite floral inspired drink recipes for you to try. Looks like this spring will be a gin-lovers dream!

Lemon and Lavender Collins
2oz gin
1oz lavender simple syrup
1oz lemon juice
Seltzer Water
Sprig of lavender or lemon wheel for garnish

Lavender Simple Syrup Recipe
1 cup of water
1 cup of sugar
1 Tbsp Lavender Extract

Part 1 – Making the Lavender Simple Syrup
– In a saucepan over medium-high heat, add the water and sugar
– Stir to combine, then bring to a boil
– When all of the sugar has dissolved, reduce the heat and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes
– Turn the heat off, add in the Lavender Extract, stir
– Allow to cool completely before using
Part 2 – Mixology
– In a cocktail glass, add in a good handful of ice followed by the gin, lavender simple syrup, and lemon juice.
– Stir, then top off with seltzer water.
– Garnish with a sprig of lavender or thinly sliced lemon wheel and enjoy!

Cardamom Rose Cocktail
1.5oz of Hendrick’s gin (this is a rose & cucumber infused gin)
.75oz of Rose syrup
.25oz of Fresh lemon juice
.75oz of Fresh ruby red grapefruit juice
2 dashes of Peychauds bitters
1 Cardamom Pod

Rose Syrup Recipe
2.5 cups water
4 cups sugar
.25 cup fresh lime juice
.5 cup rose water

Part 1 – Making the Rose Syrup
– Bring water and sugar to a boil in a saucepan
– Simmer for 10 minutes
– Add the lime juice and rose water and cook 10 minutes longer, stirring occasionally
– Remove the pan from heat and allow to cool
– Pour the syrup into a clean, dry bottle
Part 2 – Mixology
– Lightly muddle 1 cardamom pod at the bottom of shaker
(not too much muddling or it will overpower the drink)
– Add the rest of the ingredients and ice; Shake for 20 seconds
– Strain over fresh ice to remove the cardamom pod
– Add a splash of seltzer water
– Garnish with rose petals or fresh lemon wedge

Jasmine Cocktail
1.5oz gin
.75oz fresh lemon juice
.25oz Campari
.25oz Cointreau

Mixology
– Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake to chill.
– Strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a lemon twist

Chamomile Honey and Whiskey Cocktail
6 chamomile tea bags
4 cups water
4 tbsp honey
3oz whiskey or bourbon
2 orange slices
3 lemon slices
Fresh chamomile flowers (optional)

Mixology
– Heat water to a boil, pour hot water over tea bags in a large, heat-safe pitcher/container
– Add honey and bourbon and let steep for 5 – 10 minutes
– Pour mixture into a shaker, add ice and shake for 15 seconds.
– Pour over ice cubes into a rocks glass, and garnish with chamomile flowersI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, having a signature cocktail at your wedding is a great idea!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, having a signature cocktail at your wedding is a great idea!  Leave your guests with the memory of something they had only exclusively at your wedding and will talk about for long after the day is over.  Give one or two, or maybe even all, of these cocktails a try and you will be glad you did!  Enjoy! And as always, happy wedding planning.

3 Things Your Wedding Caterer Wants You to Stop Doing

I know you are new to wedding planning, and for most couples, this is the first time they have ever had to plan something so big and detailed. But don’t worry!  That is why I am here to help you build your dream day! With that said, there will come times when you will need to momentarily step back and to let the wedding professionals guide you. Your wedding is your vision and I want to help you get there. Just keep in mind that sometimes you may need to briefly get out of the driver’s seat – just long enough for your wedding vendors to map things out for you.  Below are three things that you should stop doing when planning your wedding in order to make the process easier and more enjoyable for everyone!

1. Not Revealing Your Budget
While it may seem like being completely upfront and honest with your vendors could make you too vulnerable, it’s actually the opposite. This is your first time, but wedding professionals do this every day. It is very common for couples to hide their desired catering budget and us wedding professionals don’t understand why! When you go to buy a car, you know before you leave the house whether you’ll be shopping for a Honda or Lamborghini, and you should follow that same mindset while planning your wedding. Give your caterer a starting budget that you know you are comfortable with, even just a range is fine! Providing a dollar amount as a strong starting point is so much more helpful than saying, “low budget”, “affordable” or “high-end budget” – your definition of “affordable” could mean a far different number than another couple.
The worst thing you can do is ignore the budget topic altogether.  Your caterer will want to provide you the best services within your budget. No caterer wants to scare you away with a giant sticker price and also doesn’t want to disappoint you with something more basic than what you had in mind. Trust that your wedding caterer isn’t out for every dime of your budget! Holding out on your budget only slows things down and makes it take longer to get you the information you need. If you truly don’t have a budget in mind, be upfront about it, but also be realistic that you may not get the type of catering proposal you had in mind right off the bat.

2. Bringing an Entourage to Your Tasting (Especially Without Notice)
This one can easily be avoided. For most caterers, they plan ahead to serve two people and prepare accordingly. Your tasting is basically a private dinner consisting of one on one time with the chef. Unlike restaurants, not all caterers have endless amounts of food on hand. Caterers order food fresh for each event and order the quantity based on attendance. Your caterer will understand that there may be a parent, bridal party member, or sibling who wants to come as well, and that is fine, but you should be sure to share that information beforehand.  Not only does your caterer not want to look ill prepared, but they also like to know your proposed headcount ahead of time to make things easier on you. If you have six people that want to join your tasting, most caterers will kindly guide you toward a more intimate number. While it is understandable that some people may be helping you pay for the wedding, or your best friends are foodies and you value their opinions, there really can be too many cooks in the kitchen. Once you surpass four people, the opinions can be overwhelming, and you may walk away feeling more stressed than needed. The value of bringing others into the wedding planning process is understandable and appreciated, but ultimately this day is about you and your partner. This is your day to be yourselves, and have things the way the two of you like them! If you bring too many strong opinions to the table, you might lose your wedding day identity.

3. Asking Too Many Questions without Answering Any of Theirs
We know this is an exciting time, and definitely an unknown domain. You have nothing but questions, and that is very normal, but remember how often your caterer has done this. Let them guide you. It’s just like in school – if you wait long enough, your questions will probably be answered before you have to ask them. You’ll get your answers faster by providing some first. It’s very hard to tell you how many servers you will need to have on staff for your event if you don’t state how many people you’re expecting or what type of dinner you want. Event hours, guest count, type of dinner service, and type of bar are just a few of the factors in calculating event costs. The only question you really SHOULD ask upfront is to see a menu, because after all, if you don’t love what your potential caterer is cooking up, it’s time to keep looking.

While this post focused on things to avoid while working with your wedding caterer, these 3 tips can be applied with almost all of your other wedding vendors as well.  Not everyone is out to get you when planning a wedding.  Wedding professionals understand what a great expense a wedding is and want to make your event as amazing as possible.  This is why it is important to be honest about your budget so that they can plan accordingly and do their absolute best to fulfill all of your requests.  Also, remember, whether it be about food, color scheme, decorations or anything else, don’t let anyone’s opinion take over your day, you and your future spouse should make all the final decisions and always remember to please yourselves before anyone else!  While your mind will most likely be filled with questions the whole time you are planning your wedding, stay calm!  If you are working with the right wedding vendors they will ease your mind and provide you with the knowledge you need to plan your dream day.  I hope this helps and as always, happy wedding planning!